Elephant Skin, Elephant Eyes – Guest Post

Get a fast start on your next paper mache project or hand-made gift with Jonni’s easy downloadable patterns for masks, animal sculptures and faux trophy mounts. The patterns help you create a beautiful work of art, even if you’ve never sculpted anything before.

Paper Mache Elephant Wall Art

We have a wonderful guest post today, from a gentleman who started with my 3D baby elephant pattern, and then added some very creative ideas of his own to make it truly special. In fact, the skin texture on his baby elephant is outstanding – and it looks easy to do.

I’m very happy that he agreed to show us some of the methods he used when he made his baby African elephant. I’ll let him take it from here…


©2015 Basil Hammerton

Adding Creative Touches to the Baby Elephant Wall Hanging

Hi There, My name is Basil Hammerton. I am a 57 year old male who recently rediscovered paper mache on a Discovery program called “Hows it’s Made”. They featured a company in Toluna Mexico which makes incredible animals out of paper mache. I investigated further and came across Ultimate Paper Mache.com. I was hooked. Jonni is an amazingly talented person who is only too happy to share what she has learnt. I love to play the drums, enjoy catch and release salt water fly fishing, tying all my own flies. I now have another hobby, paper mache, which takes up even more of my limited spare time as I have to work 40 hours a week as a maintenance worker at a Grammar school here in Auckland New Zealand.

After completing Jonni’s Frog I started on the Jack Rabbit and Elly my baby elephant. Elly probably took me approximately 2-3 weeks to complete as I was limited by time constraints and because I was also working on the Jack Rabbit at the same time.If I devoted my time to her completely until finished I am sure I could get her done in a week, although I am somewhat of a perfectionist so this might be a bit generous.

Cutting out and assembling the pattern was time consuming but I actually find this part of the process very enjoyable. I pretty much followed the way Jonni does it here, using half a polystyrene ball glued in to each eye socket first then stuffing it all tight and compact with tin foil. I stuffed the trunk separately first then attached it to the rest of the head then stuffed the head. Next time I think I will try bubble wrap for this as I seem to accumulate heaps of it at work and I hate waste especially plastic.

Paper Mache Elephant Pattern Assembled
Paper Mache Elephant Pattern Assembled

Next was a complete covering in masking tape.Taking what I learned from previous projects I wanted to make sure I did not have to sand her eyeballs after all the clay and gesso was applied or lose their nice rounded shape at all so, after the first and only layer of paper strips and paste all over, I applied a coat of gesso, as per Jonni’s recipe, to her eyes. When this was dry I sanded it to a nice smooth finish. This helped ensure I kept the original round shape produced by the polystyrene balls inserted in the cardboard pattern.

I then applied a very thin layer of Jonni’s paper clay recipe, not worrying too much about texture or features at this stage except for her nostrils and tongue. Nostrils were done with the handle of an artists paint brush as were the inner folds of her trunk.

Paper Mache Clay Elephant Skin
Elephant Covered with First Layer of Paper Mache Clay
Elephant Nostrils
Elephant Nostrils

Then another layer of paper clay, taking time now to add features like the bigger wrinkles on the front of her trunk and ears and eyelids. As far as tools go these were all done with whatever worked best. Old knives, spoons, pens, paint brush handles, anything really that gives you the effect you want. Use whatever works best for you. An artists pallet knife kept wet was an invaluable tool to help smooth it all out into an even layer.

Toilet Paper Elephant Skin

After taking time to experiment, (and I strongly urge you do this as eventually you will hit on something that really works, don’t rush any part of the process), with different types of paper I found that a very thin single ply toilet paper when applied wet onto the still wet clay with a brush instantly crinkled up into the perfect elephant skin effect.

After letting the first layer dry I applied another to accentuate this effect.

Tissue Paper Elephant Skin
Tissue Paper Elephant Skin

Painting was easy as it was two different shades of an overall color. All paints were acrylics. First a lighter grey applied with a brush, then when that was properly dry a slightly darker grey applied with a cloth. I wiped the darker grey on and then lightly wiped it off. This allowed the lighter color to still show through. Then I filled all wrinkles in with black again wiping the bulk of it off to leave just the deeper pits and hollows black. Wiping it off like this also meant that the black kind of smudged onto areas adding a third shade to her skin.

Painting the Elephant
Painting the Elephant, First Coat of Grey
Adding Dark Tones to the Elephant
Adding Dark Tones to the Elephant

For the eyes I used yellow ochre for the main color then mixed a little white with it for the iris details with black pupils and white reflection spots. Like Jonni, I cut a circle out of a piece of tissue paper folded in half, then glue these circles on with a light coat of PVA or Elmers glue. This ensures you get two eyes the same size. (One problem I have had in my three projects is symmetry so anything that helps makes this part easier I do not hesitate to use because as with my Bullfrog, one eye larger than the other spoiled the overall effect). Then I top coated the eyes with two coats of clear nail varnish finished off top and bottom with false eyelashes glued on with a 5 minute clear epoxy glue. Elly was born.

Elephant Eyes Painted
Elephant Eyes Painted

I am now looking forward to my next project of a mother humpback whale and calf. This will be my first attempt at making my own armature so we shall see. Jonni’s 3D patterns certainly gives you a good head start in achieving a realistic shape to begin with. Have a go and good luck.

Elly the Elephant, Project Completed and Hanging on the Wall
Elly the Elephant, Project Completed and Hanging on the Wall


28 thoughts on “Elephant Skin, Elephant Eyes – Guest Post”

  1. You did a wonderful job! I really enjoyed your comments and hints. A true artist! Thank you for sharing your talent.

  2. I find this is amazing, you did such an awesome job on this baby elephant. They are one of my favorite mammals. I have been to Thailand 3 times and my favorite time is going up into the mountains and riding an elephant. I have a painting done by them, I have been there when they paint the picture. Thank you for sharing, I may try and see if I can do this kind of art.

  3. Hi Jonni, Basil’s baby elephant head is amazing. My son’s high school made a life size papier mache baby elephant for their Homecoming Dance. It is stunning. I was wondering if you know of any art competitions for projects of this sort (near or in New Jersey)?

    • Hi Regina. I don’t know of any art competitions in New Jersey, because I live a long ways from there. I did Google it and some lists came up. Unfortunately, a lot of these competitions make their money with the entry fees, and I can’t tell which ones are legitimate or not. Your local art school or university art department might have a list of competitions that they recommend for their students. In fact, your son’s school might show off the elephant to more people if they donate it to a local library or school – but getting an award is always fun, too.

      By the way, we would really love to see how their elephant came out. Do you think they’d be willing to share a photo or two?

  4. Absolutely amazing. I have yet to try making anything big but it is on my ‘to do’ list. I am in awe of the talent of the people that contribute tutorials and ideas here on Jonni’s blog

  5. Jonni Hi,
    I am so excited to be able to show you my humpback whales. I finally completed them today. As usual I struggled with painting the backboard. What you see now is the fourth attempt as I was not happy with previous versions. My two girls kept telling me they were fine but I had to get it looking as close as I could to the photo I was working from. Still not entirely happy with it but from a distance it looks OK. I just had to walk away from it today and say it was “Finished” otherwise I would have used enough paint on it to fill the local paint warehouse. I will be taking it into work this week and hanging it on the wall in the art dept. office so everyone can see them. Once hanging properly I will post another photo for you to see. Hope you like them.

    • Oh my – they’re beautiful, Basil! And I think the painting is more than “fine,” it’s beautiful. How big are they?

      Will the whales get to stay permanently in the art department, or will you be finding another home for them later, like in a gallery or something? And by the way, when you do get them hung (or before) be sure to post a photo over on the Daily Sculptors page. A lot of people subscribe to that page, and I’m sure they all want to see how your whales came out.

      • Jonni, thanks for those comments.To give you some idea of size, the backboard is 1100 x 700. The art dept is only a temporary thing so everybody here at work that wants to can see them. After that they will probably end up at home until I decide to sell them or whatever happens to them. Will post to the daily sculptors page today.

    • Hi Basil,
      Love your Elly the elephant and I agree using all kinds of paper,with all types of glue,eventually something will look great. The skin on the finished Elly is brill. Covering the eyes in nail varnish another great idea.
      Most of the time I forget what I did to get to get the result i have.
      I try to take notes but you just get carried away by the process and it is all a distant memory.

      • I know what you mean, usually I am too into it to bother with photos and recording everything. Always happy to share so it is a necessity. Most of what I do I have learned from Jonni.

  6. Jonni Hi, I am so excited to finally be able to show you my Humpback Whales. I have just completed them today. As usual I struggled with the painting of the back board, trying to get it to look just like the photo i was working from, and went over it about four times other wise I could have got them completed a lot sooner. Today it was “Now or never, crunch time” so when I got the backboard to this stage i walked away and left it. I am really happy with the result. I will be taking them into the art dept. office at work so everyone can come and see them. Once up on the wall I will take more photos and post them so you can see what they look like hung up properly.

  7. Oh, Basil….I LOVE your sweet Elly! You did a terrific job on her! I cannot wait to see your humpback whale and calf when you are finished. Please be sure to post photos of them here on Jonni’s website for us to see, enjoy and learn from! ?

    • Janet thanks for that, have got one whale to the clay stage and progress photos have been taken. Thanks again.

  8. Lovely post, wonderful sculpture! I have also used one ply, but cheap napkins rather than toilet paper. That would give you more surface area to rip if you don’t want a straight edge to be seen. I did not see any on Elly so perhaps the toilet paper was even thinner than the napkins.
    Welcome to the obsession, you should post your bullfrog and jackrabbit on the daily sculptor page. We love seeing everyone’s sculptures.

    • Eileen, The toilet paper is extremely thin, only single ply and hardly appropriate for its intended use, applied wet to wet clay it is almost impossible to see the straight edges. My Bullfrog (Toad) and Jack Rabbit are posted, both are on the respective pages under “Jonnis 3D Patterns”.

    • Thanks Jean, always happy to share as hopefully it will help us all enjoy our projects more. A lesson well learnt from Jonni and her amazing website.

  9. Basil, beautiful elephant. I appreciate you giving us insight into your process. I’m working on a rhino and am going to try the things you suggested here. I have problems with eyes, also; thanks for that advice. Magnificent work.

    • Rex Hi, Thanks for your comments. Now theres a good idea, a rhino, I have doubled the size of the elephant pattern to make a bull elephant and will be adding tusks. So will be keen to see how you do your rhino horns.

    • Thanks Kathleen, I am extremely happy with it as it is my third attempt after Jonnis bullfrog and Jack rabbit. Always happy to share and help out where I can.

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